Quantification of metals in single cells by LA-ICP-MS: comparison of single spot analysis and imaging†
LA-ICP-MS is increasingly used for single cell analysis in two different detection modes using either the imaging mode with subcellular resolution or alternatively single spot analysis of cells with a larger laser spot size. This study compares the analytical figures of merit of both detection modes (signal to noise, precision, accuracy, throughput), as well as ease of operation and data evaluation. Adherent 3T3 fibroblast cells were stained with two metal dyes (mDOTA-Ho, Ir-DNA-intercalator) and several dozen cells were measured using both modes. We found a ten times higher throughput for single spot analysis, which has as well a straightforward data analysis, shortening the total analysis time further. The signal to noise ratio for single spot analysis was found to be slightly better compared to the signal to noise of pixels in imaging. The mean metal intensity per single cell differed by only 10% between both modes and obtained distributions were found to show no statistically significant differences. Using matrix matched calibration based on standards spotted onto nitrocellulose membrane, we achieved detection limits (10σ) of 12 fg for Ir and 30 fg for Ho and quantified 57 ± 35 fg Ir and 1192 ± 707 fg Ho per single cell. Compared to a conventional ICP-MS measurement of a digest of ∼60 000 cells, 54% of Ir content and 358% Ho content was found using quantitative LA-ICP-MS. The difference might be a consequence of the two metal dyes binding to different structures of the cell and therefore might behave differently in sample preparation for conventional and LA-ICP-MS.